The Department of Homeland Security Is a Mess of Misconduct and Ineptitude

Longstanding discipline problems at DHS provide a glimpse of what fans of bigger government on the right and left would inflict on us.


With bigger government now popular on both the nationalist right and the progressive left, it's an appropriate moment to review what constitutes existing government. A recent inspector general's report may offers some crucial insights. The report shows that the inner workings at the most recently created executive department—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—are a mess despite years of warnings about problems in its component agencies.

"The Department does not have sufficient policies and procedures to address employee misconduct," notes the new report from the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG), dated June 17, 2019. "Specifically, the Department's policy does not include procedures for reporting allegations of misconduct, clear and specific supervisor roles and expectations, or clearly defined key discipline terms used across the components."

As examples of what constitutes misconduct among DHS employees, the report mentions "being absent without leave, improper use of a government-issued credit card, and sleeping on the job." That sort of petty, but damaging, misbehavior probably represents the most common sort of misconduct. But bad behavior also includes much more serious issues, too.

Keeping a handle on that sort of misbehavior could potentially be a big job. "Although DHS has no department-wide misconduct allegation data, the Joint Intake Center for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received more than 16,368 allegations of misconduct and other reportable information in fiscal year 2014 alone," notes OIG.

Unfortunately, there's nobody really in charge of making sure DHS employees don't run amuck. The "Employee Relations office has limited staffing to perform these functions and staff do not believe they are responsible for managing the allegation process," states the OIG report.

This is a pretty remarkable state of affairs 17 years after the Department of Homeland Security was established in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The department is now massive and includes such familiar agencies as CBP, ICE, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Coast Guard.

Agencies do have their own internal disciplinary procedures, as illustrated by the CBP and ICE misconduct numbers. Yet there's no DHS-wide standard for tracking or penalizing bad behavior by government employees. And the individual agencies can be very bad at policing themselves.

The Secret Service, for example, has a long and sordid record of scandals involving drinking on the job, abusing power, and simply dropping the ball. Employees also seem prone to looking for leverage over people who criticize that record. "A Secret Service database containing sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) pertaining to Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was accessed on approximately 60 occasions by Secret Service employees" after Chaffetz tangled with the Secret Service director during a hearing about agents' misconduct, the inspector general noted in 2015.

The Coast Guard also has problems that would seem to require external oversight. A whistleblower at the scandal-beset Coast Guard Academy suffered retaliation from her superiors after she reported racial and sexual harassment. An "investigation substantiated Complainant's claim that she was retaliated against on the basis of her complaints, in violation of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act," the inspector general found.

The Coast Guard has also been remiss about "properly reporting service members who are prohibited from possessing a firearm"—a hot button issue at a time when politicians are constantly bloviating about the alleged evils of armed civilians.

Meanwhile, at CBP, data showed "that arrests for corruption of CBP personnel far exceed, on a per capita basis, such arrests at other federal law enforcement agencies," according to one 2015 report by the Homeland Security Advisory Council. A subsequent report cited a "broken disciplinary process," "endemic corruption," and "unlawful and unconstitutional use of force" at CBP. It recommended changes including shifting CBP personnel to "excepted service" status to streamline crackdowns on serious misbehavior. But that didn't happen, and the CBP remains beset by problems.

Across DHS agencies, a little adult supervision would seem to be in order. But it seems the department simply isn't up to the job of providing such oversight. The problems at the component agencies of the DHS, and at the DHS itself, have been headline fodder for years.

Jeh Johnson, the Obama administration's Secretary of Homeland Secretary, was openly frustrated with the hot mess over which he presided. But the most that came out of that frustration were committees acknowledging problems and recommending reforms which would fail to be implemented.

Nonetheless, there's a growing fetish on the nationalist right and the progressive left for a more active federal government. Both the nationalists and the progressives want federal authorities to reshape the economy and our personal lives, and both want to regulate our speech.

All that molding, reshaping, and regulating is going to require a lot of new government employees. And there's no reason to expect those employees would behave better than their colleagues in the various agencies under current executive departments.

Any new Departments of Telling You What to Do for Your Own Good are bound to produce instances of misconduct petty and great, just like the Department of Homeland Security does now. So, if you want to know what sort of fate the latest prophets of big government have in mind for us, peruse that inspector general's report on disciplining misconduct at DHS and look through all the reports that came before. And then brace yourself for a rough ride.

NEXT: The Supreme Court’s Next Big Fourth Amendment Case

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Can we form a department of getting rid of departments?

    1. Only if its first official act is to #AbolishICE.

    2. That could only be done if there was a recommendation from the Getting Rid of Departments panel, which I believe is a subcommittee in the Not a Fucking Chance department.

      1. Actually before that even, it would have to go through the House committee on Not A Chance In Hell, and the Senate Committee on No Fucking Way.

  2. NatSec Advisor John Bolton is 86’d.
    He’s replaced by his stache who realized the host body has no more usefulless to the alien entity.

    1. Suddenly Bolton will go from being an evil war monger who has no business anywhere near power to a reasonable, dedicated public servant run out of government by the increasingly unstable Trump.

      I wonder who at reason is going to write the “Libertarian case for Bolton” article.

      1. I’m waiting for it as well. And I’m likely more supportive of Bolton than most here (it is helpful to have opposing views in an administration and he was an awesome UN ambassador for the brief time he served in that role). If he wants to get snippy, you will see him on CNN incessantly.

        This is one of those times where Trump is best off not commenting on him at all.

    2. Breaking news,

      John Bolton has just signed with the Patriots.

      1. With a ‘stache like that, how could they lose?

      2. Patriots? Would that be the militia group, the C&W band, or the ball team?

  3. “Nationalist” is apparently the new “white supremacist”.

    This has to be the dumbest article reason has published in a long while. Yes, government agencies of all stripes suck. Yes, the government is really only effective at killing people or throwing them in jail. This was all true long before DHS.

    What any of that has to do with “nationalism” is a mystery that is known only to the author. ICE are cops. Cops suck. It is the nature of the job. But the fact cops at ICE suck is no more of an excuse to to repeal all of the immigration laws, which is what the lunatics at Reason want, than the fact that local cops suck is a reason to repeal all of the murder laws.

    1. I’m not sure it’s “white supremacist”, but people do seem to mean something else when they say “nationalist”. But then I’m not really sure what “nationalist” really means anymore. Is it as opposed to “internationalist” or something else, or what?

  4. Number One on my hit list to get rid of is the TSA. Please, make that go away. We need to have the airlines doing their own security. In this day and age, nobody is going to fly on an airline with shit security. Not anymore.

    1. TSA and FEMA need to die. Secret Service and the Coast Guard need to go back to commerce where they belong. Then get rid of the FBI and give its counter terrorism and counter intelligence functions to DHS. Make DHS the single entity in charge of securing the border.

      1. Secret Service and Coast Guard (Revenue Cutter Service) came from the Department of the Treasury.

    2. In this day and age, nobody is going to fly on an airline with shit security.

      Ah, but they do.

      1. Enough reports of incidents and not enough would do so to make it viable.

        Of course, 9/11 saved the aviation industry here. People forget how bad airlines were doing due to their incredibly shit service pre-9/11. But at least if airlines or airports suck at security, somebody can be punished. We don’t have that with the TSA, which has never done a good job at anything ever.

        1. You think service got better post-911? That doesn’t comport with my experience at all. Though I don’t think I ever took a long distance domestic flight before then. SO that may have improved. But it’s hard to see how.
          Seems to me that planes are fuller, flight attendants and security people are ruder and you get less included with your fare than you did before 2001.

  5. “The Department does not have sufficient policies and procedures to address employee misconduct.”


  6. “The Department of Homeland Security Is a Mess of Misconduct and Ineptitude.”

    But at least their third vacation home in the Cayman Islands are paid for, so it wasn’t like the taxpayers’ money was misspent.

  7. “Keeping a handle on that sort of misbehavior could potentially be a big job.”

    Not really. Fire them all and dissolve the department.

    Problem solved.

  8. Sleeping on the job — any job that didn’t require continuous attention — wouldn’t be so bad if employers would let you clock out and lie down for an hour, but usually the rules forbid that, so you have to do it on the sly or unofficially with a manager’s illicit OK. I remember once before non-sedating antihistamines were available taking an antihistamine and having to do that.

  9. there’s a growing fetish on the nationalist right and the progressive left for a more active federal government. Both the nationalists and the progressives want federal authorities to reshape the economy and our personal lives, and both want to regulate our speech.

    I don’t see that fetish as growing on either the “left” or “right”, it’s just always been there to about the same degree. Also, I don’t think it has a particularly large following on the nationalist “right”. I think they want a differently active federal government, but not a more active one.

    Everyone wants more active government (including reshaping the economy, personal lives, and speech) than radical libertarians do, duh. That’s just restating what radical libertarians are. But I don’t see this as a growing problem, and over my lifetime it’s been a shrinking one on most accounts.

  10. Anyone ever visit a DMV? Doesn’t matter which state. The public face of DMV is a morass of uncaring ineptitude. And it’s typical of government everywhere. Probably 30% of government employees are there as a function of welfare in the guise of employment. It doesn’t matter what piece of government you look at, the answer will be the same. Stand by to have your cancer taken care of by a government agency. In the meantime, learn to pray effectively.

  11. Close but no cigar. Most of that is government as usual. The only real problem is the TSA, all of which needs to die now, and the more painfully the better.

    This comment not approved by Silicon Valley brain slugs.

  12. I am developing a first rate half of time financial advantage from home with the aid of using running my PC . I even have used an internet system and presently I clearly have created $18987 This month. all of us of you’ll be Able to use this home income device and earn extra from intention Half Time. test this website for added data regarding developing cash….but earlier than this you need to visist the following website online ………..https://Www.Ework7.Com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.